Frugal Beautiful

Posts Tagged ‘Career Planning

Brand Yourself: Your Degree is Not Enough

 

Graduates are grumbling- their degree didn’t get them what they’d hoped.  No longer will a degree guarantee a shiny lucrative career with enough income to pay off those precarious student loans.

To get noticed you must stand out. Your degree is nothing more than a piece of paper that states you’ve done the BARE MINIMUM to make yourself marketable to employers or graduate schools.   Don’t wait out the economy- the fact is, the job market and academia has changed- your degree is unremarkable.  You must be remarkable.

 

Even if the economy rebounded immediately- the fact remains the same, a degree does not have the clout it used to.  The answer to this isn’t to get a “higher degree,”  you’ll have the same problem applying for grad schools as you will applying for jobs.   Thousands of students are graduating each semester, and thousands more are enrolling in higher degree programs to wait out this bad economy- while a degree is essential for many careers, is it enough? Short answer: No.

The fact is, competition is fierce. Truth be told, hiring agents cannot see past the piece of paper- to the hours you labored over a tough chemistry exam, the the fact that you’re a first generation college student, or the blood/sweat/tears that you put forth above and beyond that of your peers to graduate with honors (or to graduate at all).  That piece of paper tells them nothing except that you at least meet the minimum qualifications for their position.   What will make you noticeable in a pile of degree-holding applicants is what is the papers of your resume, your cover letter and the impression you make on your interview.  Sadly though, these areas are rarely fully developed in the coursework required for today’s average baccalaureate degree.

Speaking from experience, I have seen plenty of qualified, recent graduates get rejected or just ignored for relying on their degree- even when that degree is from a prestigious university.  You owe it to yourself to stand out from the crowd, you cannot afford to blend in.

 

 

Market Yourself as More Than a Piece of Paper:

-Work for Free. The youth of previous generations had to work hard for years to reach levels of respectable status and income- your degree does not mean you get to expedite that process.  You will probably have to work just as much as they did, but you just did 4-6 years in a classroom first.   Intern at a company you’d like to work for, or at least get some experience volunteering at a company that’d look good on your resume.  You may not be getting paid, but you will be getting a line on your resume- which looks far better on paper than post-graduate unemployment.


-Research and Network. Somewhere, out there- is someone doing what you want to do.  Living the life you want to live.  Find these people, even if it’s just by reading their blog, watching their interviews on YouTube or reading their memoir.  Smart people have already written just about everything you need to know to get your dream job- I assure you, there is a probably a “Guide for Dummies,” on your given industry or topic.  Find people doing what you want to do and seek out their wisdom.

 

-Grow. Sadly, most universities today produce cookie-cutter degrees with cookie-cutter graduates.  You need to discover ways to differentiate from the pack.   Start filling your life with inspiration and experience that you didn’t get in the classroom.  Read books about people that have lead phenomenal lives, participate in the community and start doing things you’ve always wanted to do- travel, explore, question.  This is the time.  If you’re feeling downtrodden from the job hunt, you need to recharge your batteries, or perhaps explore a new way of approaching the search.

 

-Brand Yourself. The term “branding” is usually used for marketing- but increasingly it is used to market people.  Using social media and blogs to market yourself is a relatively new phenomena but has been hugely successful if done correctly.  Barack Obama comes to mind as someone who pioneered social media to get “hired,” as the United States President, but similarly, you can use blogging or social media to get yourself known and build credibility within your niche or industry.  Improving your contacts, writing skills and computer know-how can only boost your hireability.

 

More on Branding:

How to Brand Yourself in a Competitive Job Market– Q&A @MarketingProfs

How to Brand Yourself @RuckMakers

7 Secrets to Getting Your Next Job Using Social Media @Mashable

Suze Orman is known for her financial advice- especially her emphasis on living within your means and saving for the future.

I chose her commencement address at University of Illinois because she speaks about her life journey.  The fact that she had no idea what she wanted to do, and ended up dropping out of U of I resonates with a lot of us who are trying to figure out our life’s path.  She was a major in Social Work and ended up being one of our generation’s major financial gurus, and it happened through her mistakes, miscalculations and of course- tenacity.

“Your degree does not make you- you make your life.” Her story will leave us with plenty of useful lessons learned.

“You are to go for anything and everything you want.  You are to give 100% to everything you do…the hardest thing in life is to jump a chasm…it doesn’t matter what you jump into.  All I ask of you is to jump into it with 100%, with every single thing you have.”

heart in your handsConfession time!  1.5 years ago, I sat in my undergrad advisor’s office and had a “moment.”  I realized that I was all set for graduation that next spring and I thought to myself:  “That’s it?”  I felt I hadn’t learned nearly enough as an undergrad and thought the remedy for my ignorance was more education- but I think I was wrong.

For me, 1.5 years ago, the decision to go to grad school was twofold- part one being my desire to be a smarter, better, more worldly person, and and part two was simply that I was about to graduate college and had no friggin’ clue what to do.  Of course, reason number two was hiding in the shadows of the glorious and over-publicized reason number one.  1.5 years ago, I saw a graduate education as my ticket to a new life- means to validate myself as an intelligent person, to secure myself one additional rung on that stupid “ladder of success.”

The process of applying to grad school, and then, getting in, was just the transition I needed to adjust myself to that scary “Oh sh*t this is really adult-time and it’s happening now,” that we all must face.  Granted, I saw myself as “more adult than most,” having taken care of my elderly grandmother and built a repertoire of philanthropic and travel experience that made me feel “adult,” bu never before in my whole life had I felt that I was about to face MY WHOLE LIFE.  In the manner of how I normally do things when I think I need to figure things out immediately, I completely freaked out and crafted my “Plan to Go to Grad School And Become An Adult.”  Which was really just a panic attack under the façade of a well thought-out plan which was categorized in a three-ring binder and researched meticulously.  But as we all know, “book smarts,” are not “street smarts.”  You can analyze something endlessly, but until you get out there and experience it- you pretty much have no idea what it’s really like.

Enter the present day- I am writing this blog and looking back on my life.  Getting in and going to grad school has accomplished it’s initial goal- I feel I’ve learned a whole heck of a lot in these past 7 months, but I’m not sure if what’s been gained in the classroom is worth the price tag.  What I have learned- much of it now fueling entries for this blog, was learned in the actually experience of getting to this point:  Moving across country.  Clearing out all my junk.  Starting over in a new city I’d previously never been to.  Looking for love and finding it within myself.  Dodging unstable drunkards on the EL train.   All of this transition and hard work has lead me to the life I now fervently adore.

But, I wonder now- have I already accomplished what I set out to do?  Will finishing my degree and shelling out an additional (I don’t even want to say how much it is, but it ain’t cheap) really serve anything?

This is something I’m grappling with.  I feel that there are other avenues to which I am far more excited about, and learning on my own doesn’t cost me a dime.  I truly feel you can be “busy,” without being “productive,” and while I’m not saying that my time in school isn’t teaching me anything- is it truly worth the price tag and is it distracting me from other things?  Is a graduate degree really worth it if I can’t use Photoshop and I can barely install Windows Office?  Will taking on college loan debt impede my chances of further happiness, or am I just being silly about wanting a down payment on a house/wedding/car/Roth contribution instead?  Can I have both?  I’m not even sure if I should see the money I’ve spent already on tuition as a “mistake.”  Even if it wasn’t a mistake and brought me to a life I am now proud of, it sure is an expensive “experiment.”  I’m trying to be positive about this- grad school isn’t “bad,” but it’s too expensive to waffle about.

Needless to say- being an adult is scary.  Nobody will ever have the perfect advice- for every person that told me going to grad school was a great idea, I’ve seen evidence that it might not be.  Being an adult is really about freedom- and that’s what’s so scary about it, if you fail, you have nobody to blame but yourself.  It’s all your choice, your life, your consequences- both good and bad.  No matter what path you take- that life?  It’s YOURS…and perhaps that’s why I love it so intensely and totally intimidated by the power of it all.  I’m not sure what to do, but I’m going to keep writing until I muster the cajones to figure it out.

P.S. I could have written this to PostSecret, but this was way better.

gre books of joy (#294)No.  You Absolutely Should NOT go to grad school…at least until you read this article.

I am a grad student now, and wish someone would have had this talk with me in a way that was comprehensible a year and a half ago.

I’m not even going to get into the cost of applying to grad school- the exams, the exam prep, the application fees, the cost of sending your scores and transcripts to different institutions.  It can easily cost you $500 for a very sexy batch of rejections.  Nor am I going to warn you that applying means days of your life and plenty of stress- getting letters of recommendations, establishing (and kissing a**) with professors at different institutions, writing a personal statement and getting together a coherent writing sample.   I will save that for later.

I simply want to ask you WHY you are applying to grad school- really think about it. I too often have heard people tell me “I’m going to grad school because the economy sucks,”  “I don’t know what else to do with my life, “more schooling will make me smarter/more competitive in the job market,” or “If I don’t get it done now, I’ll never do it.”   These are all really common, but really stupid reasons.  Let me tell you why.

-Going to grad school because the “economy sucks,” is not an economically sound strategy. If you are trying to “ride out” the current economic downturn, you’d be better off getting a less-than-stellar job and earning money to put away in a retirement fund.  Not only will you most likely not get funding unless you are accepted into an awesome Ph.D. program or are accepted WITH funding (which is difficult for most master’s candidates), but let me tell you, EVERYONE ELSE HAS THE SAME IDEA!  Most of my rejection letters were peppered with this remark: “This year we saw an unprecedented number of applicants.  While your application was promising, we were unable to admit you to the program.”  Kids, it’s a numbers game- unless you have an unusually strong application and strategy, you are a small fish in a big pond.

-If you don’t know what else to do with your life- that’s OKAY. It’s scary not to have a “plan” but I assure you- going the grad school route only seems like a plan on the surface.  Many people who claim their idea for a post-baccalaureate education was the “best idea ever,” are using it as a security blanket.  You don’t need another degree to prove you’re smart, nor will getting accepted better to prepare you for “the real world.”  How do you prepare for the real world?  Just jump in and do your best.  Though it’s comforting to know your next 2-6 years are accounted for, the feeling of purpose and accomplishment is a thin veneer which doesn’t hold up well over time.   I admit, I was one of these people- I am just now getting confident with my newly formed “adult brain,” and this courage came from an array of other scary choices I had to make outside the classroom.

-Getting a graduate degree will not make you any smarter, and it will not make you more competitive. A piece of paper is a horrible measure of aptitude.  You want to know what will ensure you are smarter, stronger and more competent?  Stepping into the world and forging your own path, a path outside the academic institution.   I thought grad school was what I needed to really be “better.”  When I got there I found that my first semester was nothing but a glorified reading list, and an expensive one at that.  I was disappointed- I could have gone on Amazon.com, got the books and discussed them on my blog FOR FREE.   When I went to apply for jobs, I found that many of them required skills that I hadn’t learned in school.  I went online or asked friends for help and strengthened my resume on my own, for free.

Getting another degree will not make you smarter if you’re not learning outside of the classroom- that responsibility rests upon you and you alone. If you have a master’s degree in literature and writing but don’t have work experience and know some handy computer programs (Photoshop, HTML/CSS, Excel, whatever), you just won’t be competitive in many of the jobs that are out there.

-If you’re worried you’ll “never get around to it,” perhaps you never should! If you have doubts, put off applications for a year, and go talk to people.  Try some internships.  Read some blogs and do some research.  Being in school another 2-6 years is expensive, consuming and stressful.  If your heart isn’t in it, making those sacrifices necessary to graduate will make you hate life.  Life is too short to be a martyr for education (unless you’re damn sure you want to be)!

If you think getting a graduate degree will enrich your life, or is a well-proven path to success in your given career field, by all means- GO FOR IT!  But if you’re meandering around, and you’re thinking graduate school will be an easy solution to your worries, do not let yourself off that easy- it will cost you more in time and college loan debt than you can imagine.

A year and a half ago, I was insecure and unsure about the future, grad school was totally a cop-out for a girl without a real plan of her own.   I have learned from that mistake, capitalized on it, and learned to find my voice now with those choices I have made.   For me, graduate school brought me to Chicago and challenged me in unimaginable ways- almost to my breaking point at times, but I am secure now in my decision.  For me, the choice to go to graduate school was also a choice to relocate halfway across the country, start over and build a new life- and it is the summation of those choices that are what I’m most confident and proud of now, not necessarily the program I’m in.

I hope your choices will be forged with critical thought, and the following of your own heart, and I hope I can help you in that process.

This post is lovingly dedicated to the one man who asked the hard questions and lead me, kicking and screaming into this frugal beautiful life.  Thanks.

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